False: Black objects on lampposts are not surveillance devices
A series of photos and videos circulating on social media claim lampposts in the town of Sheung Shui in the North District of Hong Kong are equipped with surveillance devices.
Users reacting to images of street lamps with black devices s on top have speculated they could be surveillance cameras monitoring residents in the area. Some said the same devices were spotted in other parts of the city such as Sham Shui Po and along the Tolo Highway.
The claim is false. The black attachments are merely covers to protect electronics sockets from the rain on newer LED lampposts. They appear to be common features seen in other countries. A streetlight enthusiast’s website shows many LED lampposts across the U.S. with similar objects sticking out of the top.
The owner of the website told Annie Lab that most streetlights are fitted with sockets to install electronics such as light sensors. An engineer from the lighting division of the Highways Department in Hong Kong said the new LED streetlights were erected as part of a government programme to replace older street lamps.
The department’s spokesperson said the black objects are just caps to prevent rainwater from entering sockets that are not currently being used. In the future additional electronics will be installed that will control the brightness of the lamps and send status updates to a control center but these electronics will not have any surveillance functions, according to the Highways Department.
Annie Lab found smart lighting control modules attached to a socket on the top of LED street lights on several streetlight manufacturers’ websites. These all have a similar appearance and position to the black covers shown in the original images with the false claim.
The office of Lam Tsz king, a district council member of North District’s Choi Yuen constituency, said they were also informed by the Highway’s Department that the black objects were used to protect the components of the streetlight from the rain.
Installing advanced streetlights has been controversial in Hong Kong, which has been engulfed in pro-democracy protests since June last year, as some people believe smart lampposts could be coupled with cameras, facial recognition, and other technology to be used for surveillance purposes.